The importance of balancing work and rest: why taking time off is essential for creative success

Balancing work and rest is essential for both productivity and creativity. First of all, it’s essential to put in the time and effort to do the work and pursue our creative projects.

Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” But then, on the other hand, it’s also important to take breaks and give ourselves time to relax and recharge. As Seneca wrote, “Consult with wisdom, it will advise you not to sit forever at your desk.” Does anyone remember Celebrity Death Match? I’d like to see a contest between Pablo Picasso and Seneca on the subject:

Seneca enters, with a sling, “Do not sit forever at your desk!” he yells, unleashing hell in the form of a few boulders at Picasso. Picasso shields himself with an easel, and in response chucks a volley of cubes at Seneca (I may be missing the point of cubism here). Seneca skids hopelessly on a thousand tiny dice, falls down and breaks his coccyx.

This idea of balance is particularly relevant when it comes to creativity. In a TED talk (thank you Helen, Maker of Things for recommending this to me), Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the idea of “genius” and how it has changed over time*.

In ancient Greece and Rome, citizens believed that genius would visit them rather than being something that they possessed themselves. Gilbert argues that this perspective can be helpful in reducing the pressure we put on ourselves to be “brilliant” or “genius.” By thinking of genius as something that visits us rather than something that we are, we can have a more realistic and healthy relationship with our own creativity.

Ultimately, it’s important to find a balance between putting in the work and taking breaks. If we work too hard and never take a break, we risk burnout and decreased productivity. On the other hand, if we take too many breaks and don’t put in the work, we won’t be able to take advantage of the opportunities for inspiration and creativity that come our way. By finding a balance between work and rest, we can produce our best work and maintain an ability to exist with contentment in the world.

What’s worked for you in terms of a balance between work and rest? Let me know in the comments. Thank you for reading.

*In the early 2000’s, I was lucky enough to appear on an episode of Dave Gorman’s Genius, a Radio 4 show in which Dave Gorman assessed various ideas to see whether they were “genius” or not. Stewart Lee was the guest judge on the programme, and decided that my idea (which wasn’t even mine, it was my then boyfriend’s, who didn’t want to speak on the radio) was not genius at all. The idea was, what if you invented a telephone that allowed you to hear what the person on the other end of the line said just after they hung up the phone. “Genius” it seems, is in any case, highly subjective.